Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to press Hamas on hostage deal


Boys transport a bucket filled with water in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 5, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. [AFP]

US President Joe Biden on Friday asked Egyptian and Qatari leaders for help in getting Hamas to agree to a deal with Israel, an American official said, ahead of negotiations in Cairo.

The United States, Egypt and Qatar have been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks in a bid to secure a temporary truce in the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners being held Israeli jails.

The White House said earlier on Friday that negotiations would occur over the weekend in Cairo, but would not confirm US media reports that CIA Director Bill Burns would be attending along with Mossad chief David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egypt's intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

Biden, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, "made clear that everything must be done to secure the release of hostages, including American citizens, now held by Hamas terrorists for nearly six months," a senior Biden administration official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official said that Biden on Friday "wrote letters to the President of Egypt and the Emir of Qatar on the state of the talks and he urged them to secure commitments from Hamas to agree to and abide by a deal."

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby had earlier told reporters that Biden's call with Netanyahu included discussions on "getting a hostage deal done, empowering his negotiators to come to (a) conclusion on this."

"This basic fact remains true: There would be a ceasefire in Gaza today had Hamas simply agreed to release this vulnerable category of hostages -- the sick, wounded, elderly, and young women," the US official said Friday evening.

Hamas launched a shock attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 Israelis and foreigners, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Palestinian militants also took around 250 hostages, about 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 whom the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed over 33,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.